Pelosi issued a public statement upon arrival in Taiwan, celebrating Taiwan and the United States’ shared commitment to democratic values in the face of adversity.
“Our Congressional delegation’s visit to Taiwan honors America’s unwavering commitment to supporting Taiwan’s vibrant Democracy,” Pelosi said in the statement.
“Our discussions with Taiwan leadership will focus on reaffirming our support for our partner and on promoting our shared interests, including advancing a free and open Indo-Pacific region. America’s solidarity with the 23 million people of Taiwan is more important today than ever, as the world faces a choice between autocracy and democracy.”
Pelosi also reaffirmed that the United States was in no way changing its long-standing policy on China-Taiwan relations, and would continue to abide by the status quo.
The visit comes amid a multi-national tour of Southeast Asia that will also see the speaker visit Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, and Japan.
US Unfazed by China Threats
The speaker’s visit to Taiwan has been in the works since at least April when she was expected to visit Taipei but could not due to a last-minute case of COVID-19.
The CCP has subsequently turned the trip into something of a war drum and has issued a number of increasingly bellicose threats to Taiwan and the United States.
“Playing with fire will set you on fire,” CCP leader Xi Jinping told President Biden during a phone call last week.
Similarly, China state-owned media took to social media with a long list of provocative and, at times, violent posts about the trip. Most notably urging the Chinese military to shoot down Pelosi’s plane.
“If U.S. fighter jets escort Pelosi’s plane into Taiwan, it is invasion,” said Xijin Hu, former editor of China’s state-owned Global Times, in a tweet.
“The PLA [China’s military] has the right to forcibly dispel Pelosi’s plane and the U.S. fighter jets, including firing warning shots and making tactical movement of obstruction. If ineffective, then shoot them down.”
The threats follow a trajectory of escalating rhetoric emanating from Beijing in recent months, as the CCP attempts to strong-arm changes in U.S. policy without meaningful diplomatic engagement. In May, China’s defense minister went so far as to threaten that the regime would “not hesitate to start a war no matter the cost” to prevent Taiwan’s further recognition as a nation on the international stage.
U.S. leadership, for the most part, has taken the threats in stride. On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby reiterated that the nation was not changing any policy regarding Taiwan.
“Put simply, there is no reason for Beijing to turn a simple visit, consistent with long-standing U.S. policy, into some sort of crisis or conflict, or to use it to increase aggressive military activity in or around the Taiwan Strait,” Kirby said.
“We will not take the bait or engage in saber rattling. At the same time, we will not be intimidated. We will keep operating in the seas and skies of the western Pacific as we have for decades.”
The CCP has already begun punishing Taiwan for receiving Pelosi. The website of Taiwan’s president was hit with a cyber attack early in the week. That attack, meanwhile, was followed by a Chinese import ban on more than 100 Taiwanese food and agriculture firms.
Despite the rhetoric and willingness to do harm, however, leaders from both Taiwan and the United States expressed solidarity in not caving to CCP demands.
“What kind of message would it send to other leaders of the free world if the Speaker of a major country’s legislative branch cancelled an unannounced trip to Taiwan because the PRC has threatened to use force against freedom-loving people on this beautiful island?” said Wang Ting-yu, a Taiwanese MP, in a tweet.
“We have been clear from the very beginning that she [Pelosi] will make her own decisions and that Congress is an independent branch of government,” Kirby said. “Our Constitution embeds a separation of powers.”
“This is well known to the PRC, given our more than four decades of diplomatic relations. The Speaker has the right to visit Taiwan, and a Speaker of the House has visited Taiwan before without incident, as have many members of Congress, including this year.”
Pelosi Arrives on Military Aircraft
There were rumors that Pelosi was aboard a U.S. Air Force aircraft, SPAR19, which flew out of Malaysia Tuesday with no listed destination. The destination of the aircraft was updated to Taipei as it passed the Philippines.
The plane caught the attention of anxious China-watchers, who flocked in the hundreds of thousands to track the aircraft. Flightradar24, a popular aircraft-tracking website, announced that the “unprecedented” interest in the aircraft caused a strain on its servers, temporarily making the website unavailable.
“It is commonplace for the Speaker to travel aboard a U.S. military transport aircraft,” said White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby during a press briefing on Aug. 1. “That’s very typical.”
“Part of our responsibility is to make sure that she can travel safely and securely and I can assure you that she will.”
It is normal for sitting members of Congress to visit Taipei, and such has happened multiple times this year. The last time a sitting Speaker visited Taiwan, however, was in 1997.
Both the United States and China have subsequently maneuvered military assets into the region around Taiwan, belying the sense of tension felt by both nations.
Many experts believe that the CCP’s threats are hollow, and intended to do no more than affect U.S. policy without having to actually use diplomacy. Still, the White House warned that such situations can all too easily lead to miscommunication and catastrophic incidents.
“It’s not so much that there may be a direct attack, but it raises the stakes of miscalculation and confusion which could also lead to unintended consequences,” Kirby said Monday.
Kirby added that the United States would be on the lookout for increased military provocations from the CCP, including air and naval activities and missile launches.
He said there was a possibility that the CCP would repeat its actions from 1995 and 1996, when it launched missiles into the waters around Taiwan after it was announced Taiwan’s president would visit his alma mater in the United States.
Chinese communist authorities have made a series of sweeping and bellicose threats toward the United States in an effort to deter Pelosi’s trip from happening, and it is unclear how far the regime can go with its rhetoric without losing face internationally.
Chinese leadership fears that such trips will increase the ties between Taiwan and the United States and further legitimize Taiwan as an independent nation.
The CCP claims that Taiwan is a breakaway province that must be united with the mainland, by force if necessary. Taiwan has been self-governed since 1949, has never been under CCP control, and boasts a thriving democratic government and market economy.
The flight tracking site Flightradar24 said Pelosi’s aircraft, a U.S. Air Force Boeing C-40C, was the most tracked in the world on Tuesday evening with 300,000 viewers. The plane took a roundabout route, flying east over Indonesia rather than directly over the South China Sea.
Pelosi has used her position in the U.S. Congress as an emissary for the U.S. on the global stage. She has long challenged China on human rights, including in 2009 when she hand-delivered a letter to then-President Hu Jintao calling for the release of political prisoners. She had sought to visit Taiwan’s island democracy earlier this year before testing positive for COVID-19.
Pelosi kicked off her Asian tour in Singapore on Monday as her possible visit to Taiwan sparked jitters in the region.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong “highlighted the importance of stable U.S.–China relations for regional peace and security” during talks with Pelosi, the city-state’s Foreign Ministry said. This was echoed by Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi in Tokyo, who said stable ties between the two rival powers “are extremely important for the international community as well.”
The Philippines urged the U.S. and China to be “responsible actors” in the region. “It is important for the U.S. and China to ensure continuing communication to avoid any miscalculation and further escalation of tensions,” said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Teresita Daza.
China has been steadily ratcheting up diplomatic and military pressure on Taiwan. China cut off all contact with Taiwan’s government in 2016 after President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse its claim that the island and mainland together make up a single Chinese nation, with the Communist regime in Beijing being the sole legitimate government.
Pelosi is to travel to Japan and South Korea later this week.